Cobalt vs. Sea Ray in patent lawsuit

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Cobalt’s submersible swim step is the focus of the lawsuit.

Cobalt’s submersible swim step is the focus of the lawsuit.

Cobalt Boats is suing Sea Ray Boats, alleging that the company has infringed on Cobalt’s patent for a submersible swim step. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, contends that Sea Ray’s “reckless” infringement of the patent has caused Cobalt to lose sales.

The complaint says Sea Ray’s manufacture, use and sale of boats with a submersible swim step infringes the U.S. patent (No. 8,375,880) Cobalt received in 2013.

An attorney for Cobalt Boats filed a document sent to Sea Ray on Oct. 1, asking the company to resolve what it believed to be patent infringement of its fold-out step. “Based on our understanding of its construction and operation, we believe this fold-out step feature falls within the scope of the ’880 patent claims and therefore infringes the patent.” The document says Cobalt “is willing to resolve this issue in an amicable fashion,” provided Sea Ray agrees to refrain from the manufacture and sale of boats with swim platforms that include a fold-out step and pay a negotiated royalty to Cobalt on those already sold.

A federal court complaint was filed Jan. 23. “As a result of Sea Ray’s willful infringement of the ’880 patent, Cobalt has lost sales to Sea Ray and has been and continues to be damaged by Sea Ray’s infringing conduct,” the complaint says.

Sea Ray’s parent company, Brunswick Corp., said in documents filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia in mid-March that there was no “actual or legal basis” for the lawsuit, adding that the “defendants deny all allegations of patent infringement.”

“Brunswick admits that it is a direct competitor of Cobalt,” court documents read. “Brunswick further admits that it has promoted and sold boats with a ‘submersible swim step.’ ” However, the company says that its submersible swim step is not a copy of Cobalt’s patented step.

Brunswick also filed a motion to transfer the case from Virginia to eastern Tennessee, according to court papers, saying that “most, if not all, of the documents concerning the marketing, sales, design, operation and manufacturing of the accused products are located in or accessible from the boat group’s headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn.”

The original complaint cited Sea Ray dealerships in Virginia that had sold Sundeck 220, 240, 270 and 290 models, which have the swim step. Cobalt is based in Neodesha, Kan.

Attorneys representing Cobalt asked in court documents for a trial so a jury can determine “adequate” compensation, as well as coverage of attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses connected with the lawsuit. It is also seeking a permanent injunction to prohibit future sales of boats with the swim step feature. Brunswick also has requested a jury trial.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue.

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